US Talks Tough on Terrorism, as Bin Laden Denies Role in Attacks
The US warned Sunday that nations nurturing terrorism would face the "full wrath" of US might and laid plans to take revenge for last week's deadly terrorist strikes, while top suspect Osama bin Laden denied any involvement.
Facing huge public pressure for an immediate and overwhelming response to Tuesday's carnage in New York and at the Pentagon, President George W. Bush pored over his options with advisors at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
And with expectations rising that the first target would be Afghanistan, where bin Laden lives in exile, Pakistan said it would send a delegation to Kabul to "knock some sense" into the ultra-fundamentalist ruling Taliban militia.
Vice President Dick Cheney promised the United States would plunge into the "mean, nasty, dangerous and dirty business" of secret warfare to match a new and shadowy enemy.
States which shield terrorists can expect "the full wrath of the United States of America," Cheney told NBC television.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added that "the best defense against terrorism is an offense."
"That is to say taking the battle to the terrorists and particularly to the countries across this globe that have been tolerating, facilitating, financing and making possible the activities of those terrorists."
Asked whether that meant striking countries that harbor terrorists, he said on Fox News Sunday: "We have no choice."
Cheney and Rumsfeld repeated that Washington was examining bin Laden's involvement in Tuesday's attacks on New York and the Pentagon that killed thousands of people but said Washington would wage a long war across a broad front.
"I have no doubt that he [bin Laden] and his organization played a significant role," said Cheney.
"There's a lot of evidence to link his organization to this operation ... that doesn't mean there weren't others involved."
Bush promised Saturday to launch a "sweeping, sustained" response to Tuesday's attacks, in which terrorists hijacked four passenger planes in attacks from which more than 5,000 people are now reported missing, presumed dead.
Cheney revealed that Bush had Tuesday given orders to shoot down any other hijacked commercial jets packed with American citizens heading for US landmarks.
"The president made the decision on my recommendation ... if the plane would not divert or if they would not pay any [attention] to instructions to move away from the city at the last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out."
Meanwhile, bin Laden vehemently denied involvement.
"The US is pointing the finger at me but I categorically state that I have not done this," he said in a statement faxed to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency.
"Those who have done it, they have done it in their personal interest," Bin Laden said.
It was the first time that the former Saudi citizen had issued a personal denial of any involvement in the attacks.
Bin Laden has also been linked to the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa and the blast that crippled the warship USS Cole last year in Yemen.
Pakistan, the target of fierce US diplomatic pressure following the assaults owing to its links to the Taliban, promised to send a delegation to Kabul on Monday to persuade the militia to expel bin Laden.
"Senior Pakistani officials are going to Kabul tomorrow to try to knock some sense into the Taliban," a source close to the Islamabad government told AFP. "We will make every effort to avoid any major catastrophe."
Frightened residents of Kabul appeared unconvinced -- fleeing their homes in the war-battered city, as Taliban leader Mohammad Omar summoned religious scholars to the to discuss waging a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
The US Congress has allocated an extra $40 billion and extended permission to call up 50,000 reservists to both boost defensive measures and use "all necessary and appropriate force" to respond.
Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in 1991 was the top US military commander during the Gulf War with Iraq, have been stitching together an international coalition for the probable campaign.
NATO allies, particularly Britain, France and Germany, have expressed strong support, but also some hesitation in joining a military force unless bin Laden's involvement is proven.
Russia has embraced the fight against terrorism but appears to be wavering on whether to allow US forces to use facilities on its soil.
Arab leaders, while backing a fight against terrorism, appeared wary of being drawn into US military action, perhaps mindful of a tide of fundamentalist Islam in their own countries.
The US public, solidly behind Bush, overwhelmingly favors a military assault on terrorist bases and supports such action -- even if it leads to thousands of innocent civilians killed abroad, two polls revealed.
A poll by Newsweek showed that 71 percent of Americans support a military strike on terrorist bases, while a similar poll by the New York Times and CBS television showed that 85 percent of respondents favor military action against those responsible.
The United States has launched the biggest criminal probe in its history to find those who financed and inspired the 19 hijackers who launched the attacks.
But Newsweek said top intelligence officials fear that between 30 to 50 teams of terrorists are still on the loose.
Two people have been arrested and 23 detained in connection with the attacks over the last three days.
An FBI spokesman told CNN that one of the men arrested had been in Immigration and Naturalization Service custody on possible immigration violations.
One hundred and eighty corpses have been retrieved from the ruins of World Trade Center --- 115 of them identified -- and the number of people missing now stands at 5,097, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said.
The hope of finding survivors is fading as the days go by, he acknowledged, speaking at a press conference in New York.
"The recovery effort continues and the hope of finding someone alive is still there, but the reality is that we have not found anybody for four days ... But we continue to look for lives."
"The loss are staggering," Giuliani said.
Emergency workers have pulled 159 bodies from the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center, but New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani said more than 4,900 people were still missing. Most are thought to have perished. Another 189 people are missing and presumed dead in the Pentagon, including the 64 people on the plane that smashed into it.
And 45 people died on a fourth hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
The New York Stock Exchange, home to the biggest stock market in the world and located close to the World Trade Center, was due to reopen for business Monday amid sentiment that the uncertainty and fear brought on by the attacks may have pushed the already fragile US economy into recession -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)